To be quite honest I found it hard to switch gears and read something so tranquil, muted in voice and in prose, after being submerged in speculative fiction for so long, where adventures spread with dangers, caped in great analogies, metaphors and comparisons. To read paragraph after paragraph about what sort of objects a room is fashioned with in a matter-of-fact manner was something that slowed my reading speed.
I’m a Coelho reader and I’ve gotten used to sparse prose that instead is rich in meaning, so it took little to adjust. If I dare say I think that Murakami is the Japanese answer to Coelho, the same way manga is the Japanese answer to comic books. Both authors have Spartan writing styles, but with every story told your soul gains a new nuance, which is very rare indeed.
“After Dark” follows several protagonists: how they spend their nights, why they’re awake, which illuminates their inner worlds and projects them to the readers without anything to hinder this. Mari Asai is a quiet girl, who wanders from establishment to establishment and reads her heavy book, not wanting to return home. Takahashi is a law student and trombone player, who is spending his last night playing in order to ground himself to reality. Kaoru is a former female pro-wrestler now a love hotel owner with kind heart and a strong sense for justice. Eri Asai, Mari’s sister, is sleeping, but is being watched by someone not quite from this world.
Ordinary, but diverse stories spin, complicate and reveal what can only the night hold as a stage for life’s machinations.
“After Dark” is quite the short novel, but that doesn’t stop it from being quite meaningful. It’s a novel about isolation, about people that are alone in one way or another and through their interaction I saw how the world is in fact such a small place, where everyone is connected to everybody else through different people. Complete strangers cross paths, but as readers we’re well informed that these people share cause-effect relations that shape their night. In this sense society is a breathing organism shaped by the interactions of people and the ripple the individual actions cause. You are alone, abandoned or a runaway from contact, from your life, and yet one decision made by you shifts the whole night for quite a few people.
What made this even more a pleasurable read was the flirtation with surrealism, the liquid transition from one narrative character to another, including the introduction of new narrators and the obvious voyeuristic touches. I have never been ordered by the author to become a presence and spy from above and different angles what happens in a novel. It was new and so pleasurable to be included directly into the story as a silent protagonist, who is nothing more than a voyeur. At first glance there is nothing that interesting happening. You’re just watching people live their lives, but just as eavesdropping swallows us in, being a silent shadow amidst someone else’s life and observing the intimacy that the darkest night can inspire is addicting.
“After Dark” certainly has made me become a Murakami reader and I mean what is there not to love. There are likeable characters, which peak your curiosity, meaningful prose and such a wonderful use for popular culture and music as a certain font, setting a mental soundtrack to further heighten the experience and also proving how erudite and how rich Murakami’s inner culture is.